Thailand Issues Emergency Decree Over Anti-Government Protests

Clay Curtis
October 15, 2020

The decree comes after the third major street protest by student activists who are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former junta leader, and the formulation of a new constitution.

"Free our friends!" they shouted, holding up a three-finger salute which has been harnessed as a symbol the burgeoning movement.

The burgeoning youth-led movement wants changes "meant to sustain the monarchy in a way that is adapted" to the modern world, said Rung.

Unverified video and photos on social media showed what was purported to be protesters gesturing and shouting close to the vehicles, which would be unprecedented for Thailand, where the royal family has traditionally been revered.

Thai police arrested more than 20 people under sweeping new emergency measures earlier on Thursday, with pro-democracy activists reporting a handful of high-profile leaders were among those detained.

The emergency decree gives authorities powers to arrest protesters without warrants, and also to seize "electronic communications equipment, data and weapons" suspected to be linked to the move.

The Thai government has declared an emergency decree amid continuing anti-government protests in the country, state TV reported on early Thursday.

But as with the cycle of protest and repression that has recurred in Thailand for decades, pushing demonstrators and dissenters out of sight - either by the threat or use of violence - will do little to address the anger that simmers beneath the present calls for change.

The emergency decree, which took effect at 4am local-time, bans gatherings of five or more people and allows authorities to stop people from entering any area they designate.

At approximately 3:40 p.m., police forcibly dispersed a pro-democracy protest organized by the People's Group at Bangkok's Democracy Monument.

Several royalists who came out to express support for the monarchy on October 14 decried the pro-democracy protesters.

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Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said the premier had ordered police to press charges against "the protesters who obstructed the royal motorcade" on Wednesday.

While police cordoned most of the protesters away from the royal route, dozens were still present as the motorcade passed and Queen Suthida could be seen staring from a limousine window as protesters flashed the three-fingered salute.

Tensions flared near the capital's Democracy Monument ahead of a scheduled afternoon drive-by of a royal motorcade carrying King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

"The establishment in Thailand plays a very unsafe game, mobilising state security forces and ultra-royalist groups to confront with the pro-democracy demonstrators", said Prajak Kongkirati, a professor at Thammasat University.

"The monarchy has been around more than 700 years", said Sirilak Kasemsawat, one of thousands of royal supporters waiting "to show we love the king".

The spokesman added "those who acted in a way that defames the monarchy" would face legal procedures, according to AFP news agency.

Scuffles with royalists broke out as anti-government protesters made their way to Government House.

Protest leaders said they planned to rally outside Government House for at least three days in their bid to force Prayut to resign.

The army has long positioned itself as the sole defender of the ultra-wealthy king, whose power stretches across every facet of Thai society.

Their demands include the abolition of a strict royal defamation law - which shields the king from criticism - and for the monarch to stay out of politics.

Protesters say the whole process was a stitch-up and are calling for parliament to be dissolved, the constitution rewritten and an end to the harassment they are facing.

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Sir Keir made the comments during Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons on Wednesday. "I urge him to do so", Sir Keir said. The new system has begun in England, with the Liverpool region the first to enter the highest alert level.

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